Dying at the touch of a button

Communication technologies are a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, we have easier and quicker access to information (news) at just the clichéd touch of a button.
On the other hand, it means news has become a commodity and like most consumer goods, it becomes stale. As such, people don’t really read anymore. Instead, we “browse”. Having browsed, we chew whatever we come across rather quickly, swallowing it too soon, thus egesting half-digested information that does little to improve our lot and the world we live in.
Intellectually, we are degenerating from our diet of browsing. A simple look at the comments one sees on social network sites in relation to very simple issues, makes manifest how sorry the lot of humanity is – and how sorrier it is getting after every clichéd touch of a button.
For browsing humanity, information must be packaged as succinctly as possible, stripped of all context and analysis and easily chewable as we quickly move on to touch the next button to see what status updates our “friends” have made on Facebook.
This growing inability by the human race to wrap its mind around any contextualised analysis really hit me this past week during a debate with a colleague. I referred him to an article authored by Leo Kanisani in January 2011 titled “The Servitude of the Colonial Pact”. I suggested that he could read that article in conjunction with that month’s issue of the New African magazine. The idea was for him to get another perspective on how meaningless independence has been to Africa because nothing has really changed from the colonial era.
After a few seconds of fiddling with his Blackberry or Galaxy or whatever it is, he looked at me with real horror in his eyes.
“The bloody thing is more than 2 800 words long! And it’s from 2011! I can’t read that!”
This is a university-educated man who is now pursuing an MBA, a husband, a father of two, and a middle-level manager at a state enterprise. Woe to humanity!
But perhaps I should not be too surprised.
Africa in general has a very pedestrian attitude towards improving itself.
This is not a problem consigned to ordinary citizens. Indeed, it is something that stems from the leadership this continent has generally had since the individual countries started attaining flag-and-anthem-type independence.
Apart from some luminaries here and there – the Nkrumahs, Sadats, Nyereres, Mugabes, Nujomas, Lumumbas and Sankaras to mention the more outstanding ones – the rest of the continent has been plagued by a leadership that simply does not feel motivated to improve its lot (apart from improving themselves and their buddies materially).
It is a problem that Leo Kanisani dealt with in “The Servitude of the Colonial Pact”.
I will not quote from the article, please feel the motivation to go and locate for yourselves on Google at the simple touch of a button. While you are at it, please also “browse” the 1 800-word piece by Godsway Yao Sappor from February 2009 titled “Neo-Colonialist Ideas in Africa after Independence”.
For the benefit of those not in a position to abuse the clichéd touch of a button, I will, however, summarise what the two gentlemen were driving at in their articles:
Africa has for decades failed to decolonise and our economies are benefiting former colonisers more than they benefit our own people.
And this is happening with the collusion of political leaders who we elect into office (or who force their way in through coups). What most African countries entered into at Independence were Faustian bargains. A touch of a button can get you to the fable of Faust, but I guess enough homework has already been given – so I will summarise.
According to the German fable, whose most famous retelling is by Wolfgang van Goethe, Faust enters a bargain with the Devil in which he will surrender his soul to the latter in exchange for all the worldly trinkets he desires.
The bargain is entered between Faust and the Devil’s representative, Mephistopheles.
Notably, Mephistopheles does not seek Faust out: rather, he senses that here is a corrupted and depraved man who will do anything to please himself. Needless to say, Faust gets what he wants, all the pleasures he can think of, and after the agreed period of time (24 years if I remember correctly), the Devil comes to carry him off to Hell.
Many African leaders and countries have Faustian bargains with Europe, Asia and America.
In exchange for a semblance of well-being – flashy cars, nice houses, shopping trips overseas – and to maintain power, African leaders have pawned off the continent’s resources.
Out of greed, many have bargained with the Devil unawares that in a Faustian bargain, even a long spoon will not do the trick.
Others, out of sheer fear of being bombed back into the Stone Age do as the Devil desires.
That is why things like Marikana can happen and life goes on as usual. That is why Compaoré can murder a man like Sankara and continue to rub shoulders with other Fausts at gatherings such as the African Union Summit.
Save for a few pockets of resistance, the rest of the continent is going to Hell in a hand basket and we all act as if it is normal.
Even then, the continent can be saved. But only when we stop browsing and start reading.

February 2013
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